Salvini supporters are publicly calling for Greta Thunberg to be assassinated

I wrote here two days ago that the cutting edge fashion in global fascism is to abandon climate denial and seek to co-opt concern for the environment rather than disdain it; Marine Le Pen, for example, no longer sees climate change as a Jew-led conspiracy but as a golden opportunity to push her agenda of global genocide. It’s since transpired that Italy is behind the French on this score. Although de facto Italian leader Matteo Salvini would no doubt approve of the means Brenton Tarrant used to put his beliefs into practice – the Australian fascist had the name of Salvini’s ally and ex-Lega candidate Luca Traini written on one of his guns – the terrorist’s self-description as an “eco-fascist” would seemingly cause Salvini some puzzlement, judging by the reaction of his supporters to the worldwide Climate Strike on Friday.

This article (in Italian) details the comments made by several pro-Salvini personaggi, some of them prominent in the Italian media, over the last few days. The writer and TV personality Maria Giovanna Maglie called for the Swedish teenage activist to be “mown down by a car”, while the former pop star Rita Pavone called her “a character from a horror movie”. Diego Fusaro, a political philosopher whose self-definition as a “Marxist” should be taken with un grandissimo pezzo di sale, accused the 16-year-old of being part of a plot by the “cosmopolitan elite” (hem hem). The well-known climate liar and founder of the daily newspaper ‘Il Foglio’, Giuliano Ferrara, tweeted “I don’t want to be accused of pedophobia, but I detest this idolatrous figure Greta and her disgusting braids, and the false world of lies she weaves round herself”. The hashtag #nogreta was trending among supporters of Salvini’s neofascist Lega party and its fellow travellers/coalition partners in the Five Star Movement, some of whom still, bizarrely, style themselves as environmentalists and even, in some outlandish cases, anti-racists. Salvini himself joined in with a typically puerile Trump-style tweet welcoming global warming as it will mean more “herbs”, a comment which will delight those among the Five Star Movement who aren’t in outright denial about Salvini’s being in power. A Five Star supporter I spoke to on Friday confirmed what I’d heard elsewhere, in that he felt that Salvini and the Lega “weren’t really” in control of the Government and that the self-confessed fan of Mussolini should be given “more time” to implement his agenda, which includes forcibly evicting and deporting hundreds of thousands of neri, protecting the Mafia by removing police protection from journalists who investigate them and building a European far-right alliance with Kaczynski, Orbán, Le Pen, and all those other names far too depressing to mention.

I’ve read* that those who voted for the electorally larger but politically junior element in his coalition (one of whom (although few people can remember whom) is nominally Prime Minister) pay little to no attention to ‘MSM’ accounts of what the Lega gets up to, putting their faith instead in the blog of their guru Beppe Grillo, a Pied Piper demagogue with a…colourful personal history**. Grillo has in the past blustered about climate change but in case anyone had their hopes up that his movement represents a progressive form of populism, also once proclaimed that “Anti-fascism is outside my purview” and tweeted that Rome is full of “swamped by rats, rubbish and illegal immigrants”. In a devastating article detailing Italy’s ‘descent into barbarism’, the universally respected journalist Roberto Saviano writes:

When people speak in general terms of populism in relation to this government they risk obscuring truly alarming facts on the ground with abstract political labels. There is no doubt that the blind eye this administration turns to racist attitudes has had serious consequences. Cynically the government gives a nod and a wink to extremist groups whose votes they do not want to lose.

The fact that Grillo’s blog has been called “the largest source of fake news in Europe” also helps explain why the Five Star Movement is far more committed to ensuring that kids aren’t protected from life-threatening diseases than it is to defending children who stand up for the environment from far-right death threats. At least it can’t be accused of incoerenza.

*The Lega/M5S Fascist/Moron coalition is a Rorschach blot, albeit with merda rather than ink. From that link: “The alliance between the Five Star party (the post-crisis ‘populists’) and the League (the xenophobic ‘populists’) is arguably functioning because of the borders around their electorates’ news sources. Occasionally I come across people who actively support both Five Star and the League. Far more common, however, are supporters of one party who are effectively ignorant of the policies of the other. For example, a Salvini supporter might rail on about how the closure of the ports will save Italian women from predatory Africans, but will have nothing to say about Five Star’s economic policies. On the other hand, a gloating Di Maio worshipper will happily praise the wonders of Five Star’s citizens’ income proposal or their anti-corruption stance, but will actively disassociate themselves from the League’s racism. And this is exactly the tactic of the separation of Ministerial powers: Di Maio, minister for jobs and welfare, makes no pronouncements about migration. But neither does his party. Search Five Star’s Facebook page, and you’ll find no mention of the Salvini law, as if it simply hasn’t happened. The same is true vice versa (with the exception of pension reforms, which the League takes as one of its central policies).”

**The M5S Party Line is that it was “ice on the road” that caused Grillo to crash his car and kill three people. That wasn’t the verdict of the court.

“Why aren’t the Brits panicking?”

There’s a thread on Reddit called “Why aren’t the Brits panicking?”. It was presumably started by someone from the States, given their choice of epithet. It’s certainly not a word I’d use to describe myself, what with its uncomfortable evocation of tabloids and expattery. I saw some right-wing troll (or, more probably, bot) on Twitter using the term ‘Britons’ in relation to Brexit, suggesting that his normative understanding of British identity draws on a mythical idea of pre-Roman/Norman/Windrush purity without jollof rice or vaccines.

Nonetheless, it’s a fair question. I’m a ‘Brit’, if you like, and I don’t appear to be panicking, despite the fact that in three weeks’ time there may well be troops on the streets to quell potential food riots, and all sorts of infrastructures whose existence, let alone importance, I have remained blissfully aware of all my life could collapse overnight. (The amount of unknown unknowns is, inevitably, unknowable.) If there’s a glimmer of sanity in Theresa May’s head that scenario won’t quite come to pass (yet), but if so we can be sure that Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson will be doing all they can to spark an immediate civil war and (in Farage’s case) will be given plentiful access to the airwaves to do so.

Philip K. Dick wrote that sometimes it is an appropriate response to reality to go insane, and this would appear to be an opportune moment to do so, except for the fact that people all around the world are very noticeably not panicking about rapidly rising temperatures or the return of the far-right to power in some of the world’s most powerful countries, which might give us pause to think: how do we “panic” if no one else seems to be doing so? Perhaps I am panicking without quite being aware of it. After all, we already have food stored under the bed and precautionary plane tickets booked for the end of the month. And yet, in the meantime, we still need to eat, sleep, see friends, take the baby to the park, go to work; there are Michael Jackson documentaries to watch, and subsequent arguments to pursue online with people who (mystifyingly) refuse to accept the facts; there are articles to read which reflect intelligently on how we should react to the final evidence of Jackson’s corruption: should we continue to play his music? Write it and him out of history? And yet, it’s been a central element in our shared emotional life. More, one might even say, then the European Union…

So what’s a reasonable reaction to news that shakes the ground on which one stands? It may be rational to panic, to scream and run away, but where do we run to? It is, in the words of this article, “easier not to believe” such terrifying truths, especially when, away from social media, so few people seem to be even slightly perturbed by what’s happening. Maybe our sense of how to behave is akin to how we construct our identities: in the words of the sociologist Charles Cooley, “I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am”. The reason that British people are not panicking is partly that other British people are not panicking. After all, not panicking is what we’ve all been doing on a wider scale in relation to even more terrifying news about our climate.

No amount of frozen metaphors about frogs in boiling water or memes of dogs in burning rooms can begin to do justice to our failure to respond adequately to collective existential threats. Michel Foucault talked about how power operates through a shifting process of normalisation, where even the most radical changes to our daily lives can be incorporated into our picture of the world, while Pierre Bourdieu developed the concept of habitus, according to which it’s practically impossible for us to think beyond the parameters of our working assumptions about our lives and our reality. Not only do we live in an environment saturated with reassuring messages about the future, we live, speak and breathe those messages, reproducing them in our thoughts, posts, conversations and actions. We see adverts for events that take place in April, May and beyond, myriad timescales which take no notice of March 29th, market imperatives that must supercede whatever happens in news headlines, just as everyday life and consumption has so far managed to outlive any number of terrorist atrocities or climate catastrophes in cities we visited just a few weeks or months before and just as the global market was able to incorporate the election of Trump, Bolsonaro and Salvini with nary a blink. When we were considering what to do at the end of March and trying to make plans for the following month, I made the following suggestion: Imagine we know there’s going to be a hurricane or a flood, one whole scale we can’t predict until just before it happens. But perhaps a better analogy, given that Brexit is first and foremost an ideological project, is a terrorist attack way beyond anything Isis could dream up; given the nature of such attacks, we don’t know whether it will hit the particular station or square we happen to be passing through, but it won’t stop us travelling or holidaying or going to work or shopping – although actually, you might want to strike that last one off the list, and the first and second come to think of it. As for our jobs… Dostoevsky wrote somewhere that the greatest strength and weakness of human beings is that we can adapt to any set of circumstances; post-modern society thrives on disruption, according to any number of Ted Talks. The statement that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism has been attributed to everyone from Frederic Jameson to Slavoj Žižek to (I seem to recall) Peter Andre. In such a setting it’s impossible to overcome the sensation that, as Thomas Pynchon puts it in ‘Against the Day’, “there will always be time”.

But perhaps, in the end, Brexit is not the cause of the (apparent absence of) panic, but rather its consequence. Maybe panic is setting in at the level of politics, and that’s what Brexit, much like Trump, Salvini et al, is an effect of. Maybe for many people the notion that their decision has somehow had an impact on world events serves to assuage the sense of doom and helplessness they feel in their daily lives.

In the meantime, then: Michael Jackson. I’m writing this in an airport. All around me people are going on with their lives: chatting, sipping coffee, unfolding pushchairs, tapping out sanctimonious diatribes about other people’s complacency on their devices. It’s soundtracked at this moment by some Motown classic which might be called ‘I believe you’. If I sit here long enough I’m sure to hear one of the totems of our culture: maybe ‘ABC’, ‘Rock with you’ (one of my personal favourites) or maybe (possibly, apart from the pedophilia, his nadir) ‘They don’t really care about us’. On the way into the terminal I saw a young woman wearing the same jacket Melania Trump when she went to sneer at terrified children ripped away fron their parents: ‘I DON’T REALLY CARE, DO YOU?’. I briefly thought about remonstrating with her, but didn’t want to create a scene. Which raises the question: how does one show that one cares? And related to that: what does it mean to panic? Maybe initiatives such as this and this can help us to, to borrow a phrase, take back control of our fears and frustrations in a way that’s doesn’t involve lashing out at conveniently-placed scapegoats.

Update: Someone on Reddit responded to this piece by accusing its writer (me) of being ‘ill-informed’, ‘stupid’ and ‘apathetic’. Here is another version written especially for him:

Having posted to his blog yet another diatribe about how Other People’s inertia, apathy, laziness, complacency, cowardice, greed, ignorance and selfishness were responsible for austerity, Brexit, Trump, Salvini, Climate Change and so on, and how it was not just incumbent upon Other People but actually pressing, urgent (and some or other synonym for those previous two words) for those aforesaid Other People to take action up to and including risking their personal relationships, livelihoods, freedom and physical safety to stop, overthrow and/or prevent those things, there really was no higher priority for Other People than that as it was a matter not just of principle but also of survival, so basically why weren’t Other People panicking or revolting, what was wrong with those Other People, like were they all fucking stupid or mad or evil or something like that, having typed all that, chosen a fitting image, selected some appropriate tags and clicked Upload, he caught the train to St. Albans, took a wander round the local gallery/museum and perused the street market, stopped for lunch in a pleasant café before visiting the cathedral and graffiting the words ‘YES, WE ARE ALL TO SOME EXTENT APATHETIC AND COMPLACENT IN THE FACE OF SUCH TERRIFYING THREATS AND HORRIFYING REVELATIONS, WE TEND TO DENY OUR OWN ROLE IN QUIETLY ALLOWING ABUSE TO BE PERPETRATED, THAT’S KIND OF THE POINT’ on the walls of the 13th century crypt, and then catching the train back to London to spend the rest of the day reading a book about climate change denial, eating the remains of the curry he and his wife had ordered off Just Eat the previous evening and watching the rest of the Michael Jackson documentary.

The (near) impossibility of taking climate change seriously (enough)

I step away from the climate change demonstration and stroll down the street past the Queen Elizabeth II Convention Centre, where dozens of people are lazing around in the warm late February sunshine.

No, that doesn’t work.

I leave the global warming protest and amble down the road past the Queen Elizabeth II Congress Hall, where scores of individuals are enjoying the warm early spring warm rays of warmth from the warm late February warm sun.

I think I see the problem. It can’t be spring in February. Spring begins round about Easter, which this year (and I don’t think this has anything to do with climate change) isn’t until late April. Speaking of which, the 22nd isn’t really late February either; as TS Eliot would no doubt agree, February is the shortest month, so it’s actually mid-to-late February right now.

Naomi Klein wrote that climate change “speaks in the language of fires, floods, storms, and droughts”, which is certainly the case, but it also says things like “this is lovely” and “it’s like being in Greece!”. Given that I know several people who were planning to spend half-term skiing in Switzerland, this February heat actually feels a little…chilling. All the same, there are people on the steps outside the ICA eating ice-cream, and it would be to begrudge them their day in the sun. Hannah Arendt famously wrote about ‘the banality of evil’; few would have anticipated how pleasant the Apocalypse would turn out to be.

There’s a standard question that gets posed in EFL classrooms: what would you do if someone told you the world was going to end in seven days? The obvious answer, one that rarely comes up, is I wouldn’t believe them. What if we reframe the question: what are you doing in response to the overwhelming evidence, brought to us by all non-corrupted scientific authorities over several decades, that our way of life is destroying our habitat? The answer, if we judge our actions rather than our words, is the same. We don’t believe them.

In his book ‘Exterminate all the brutes’ Sven Lindqvist’ wrote about the roots of the Nazi genocide in European colonialism. He ended it with the words: “It is not knowledge we lack. It is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions”. As it happens, I’ve just witnessed an example of such bravery. Someone I’d been talking to just a few minutes before, the organiser of a protest at the almost total lack of climate change information contained in the National Curriculum, daubed the message TEACH THE TRUTH in red paint all over the entrance to the Department of Education, and then sat quietly in front of it waiting to be arrested. In doing so, he put both his freedom and his livelihood as a teacher at risk.

Billions of dollars have been spent covering up the causes and consequences of climate change. It’s only now, with the first generation to directly, unambiguously face its consequences coming of age, that the resultant taboo on taking it seriously is starting to, well, melt. Adult society is very adept at living amidst the starkest contradictions and most brutally unjust realities. Whether it’s our own society’s vivid legacy of racism and imperialism, or the staggering physical, psychological and social damage wrought by consumerism, we ignore a very great deal which should make us change how we think and behave.

What’s an appropriate response to Lindqvist’s exhortation to draw conclusions and (by implication) behave responsibly? How much courage do we need to take such actions? A couple of weeks ago in Bristol I came across graffiti reading “Anna lives!”. This is presumably a reference to Anna Campbell, the young local woman who went to Kurdistan and gave her life fighting for the YPG*. Reading about her life and her father’s tribute to her bravery put me in mind of the tribute in the Turner Prize 2017 show to the philosopher Simone Weil, who lived a profoundly ascetic existence in line with her principles. According to Wikipedia, some claim that the refusal to eat which led to her death, at the age of 34 in 1943 came from her desire to express solidarity toward the victims of the war.

If the alternative to quietude is too terrifying for the vast majority of us to contemplate (and I absolutely, but not proudly, include myself in that category), what are the broader consequences of passivity? We all, I presume, experience a sense of frustration with the world as it is, lashing out in various ways at random people and objects, usually through a screen, often (in my case) at the screen itself when some process gets in the way of my venting of my pent-up annoyances. Many fall for the oldest trick that power has up its sleeve: taking out their frustrations on conveniently-placed scapegoats. The Big Idea that inspired this website – more than a hunch than a theory – is that our civilisation’s response to the knowledge of its impending self-destruction is: racism. It can be no accident that all prominent far-right demagogues, from Trump to Farage to Salvini to Bolsonaro ad infinitum, have lying about climate change as a core principle.

But then, it would be wrong to attribute all the blame for our complacency on those in political power, or to pass the buck to the media for their incessant insistence on weasel words like ‘unprecedented’. We all (myself very much included) deny climate change by rarely bringing it up and changing the subject when it does come up. My project for the next few months, and the impulse for coming to the protest today, is to carry out academic research to find out how this works in classrooms. I need to make contact with climate-aware teachers who’ll let me observe their lessons and talk to me on record about what happened and happens in class. Would I have come to the demonstration had I not had that aim in mind? I’d like to think so, but then much like anyone else I do like to interpret my own (in)actions in a positive light. Had I stayed at home, I’m sure I would have been able to think of some plausible excuse to tell myself.

*****

I walk in the door to the sound of an extremely high-pitched and insistent sound. I recognise it at once: it’s that bloody smoke alarm bleating for a new bloody battery. When we first moved in here the same thing happened and it took a lot of cursing and banging to get it to shut the fuck up. I only managed to get the battery out and stick it back in place with substantial difficulty. Later, when the Grenfell Fire happened and we were living in Rome, I remembered that incident and wondered whether our then-tenant had ever had cause to need the smoke alarm. It must have been him who replaced the battery which is now expiring.

Unfortunately the beeping noise I’d being accompanied by another insistent cry: the baby is demanding something called bettabetta. She’s in the kitchen pointing at the cupboard and her demands are almost, but not quite, in perfect synch with the bloody beeping of this nightmare of an object, the design of which makes it very, very hard to access the battery. I can’t remember what bettabetta is and I’m trying desperately to hack the battery out of the device whose beeping is becoming more and more insistent.

The whole episode takes a full two minutes, less a Two-Minute Hate than a Two-Minute Extreme Frustration. As the battery finally pops out I manage to remember that bettabetta is the baby’s name for Weetabix. She calls it that because I’ve always referred to it weeta-beeta, which is actually, it’s turned out, too complex for a two-year-old old to articulate. (It subsequently transpires that she also calls it Weetabix.) I quickly stuff the smoke alarm back into its fitting on the ceiling and get out the milk and cereal. Once things are becalmed the baby remembers (DICO! DIIIICO!!!) that I promised we could have a Friday nite pre-pizza disco while we wait for her mum to arrive. I plug in the disco lights I bought for £9.99 on Amazon and, obedient to the whims of the iPod shuffle, we joyously frug around the living room to this.

*It would be wrong not to acknowledge that while Anna Campbell gave her life in the fight against Isis, Shamima Begum and her friends must have felt very deep down that they were doing the right thing in going to fight for Isis. That Begum still felt that way despite witnessing how horrendously her new friends regarded and treated her fellow women is not a point in her favour.

School children can see what adults won’t: Brexit, Trump etc are fuelled by collective denial of climate change

I was once on an Overground train in East London where every one of the other passengers, nine of them in total, was staring at their mobile device. My first impulse was to take my own phone out of my pocket and tweet about how appalling the situation was.

It’s very easy to criticise other people’s bad behaviour when it comes to phone use – it’s much harder to notice and control our own foibles. We all have a blind spot when it comes to our own culpability. As a teacher and the parent of a young child, I’m conscious that when it comes to educating younger generations, I’m in no position to pass on much grown-up with regard to certain topics.

This is true in a broader sense when it comes to the climate. I don’t know what a proportionate individual response to global warming is, so I dread to imagine how I’m going to address the issue when my daughter’s a bit older and starts asking the obvious questions. It would be morally abhorrent for my generation or those above and below mine to sit back, praise what Greta and her cohort are doing to demand climate action, and feel complacent about the future of humanity. To do so would be to completely ignore the content, tone and urgency of their message.

It’s a central tenet of this blog that our refusal to face up to our responsibility to keep our planet habitable and the global upsurge in racist sentiment are intimately connected. Repressed fear returns as displaced anger against whatever targets are conveniently made available. In very much the same way, while our Government is now in utter turmoil in response to the predictable chaos caused by a pet project of a cabal of xenophobes who also all just happen to be dedicated climate liars, people around the UK are hunched over their/our stupid devices furiously demanding the actual head of a definitely very stupid and clearly extremely traumatised teenage mother who found herself involved in aspects of the adult world she clearly had little or no meaningful comprehension of.

Meanwhile, in the face of open contempt from a Government which makes no pretence whatsoever to represent their interests, thousands of young people have walked out of their schools to try to break the adult taboo on taking climate change seriously. Either we respond to their call and finally start to own up to the absolutely urgent absolutely fundamental changes we have to make to our economic systems and our everyday lives, or the central organising principle of our reality will be systematic programmes of scapegoating which will make Orwell’s Two-Minute Hate seem like a harmless game of Angry Birds. To paraphrase the same novel: if there is hope, it doesn’t lie on our phones.

Open email to BBC World Service re their pitiful climate coverage

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Dear BBC World Service

I listened to your report on the impact of the ongoing Australian drought and was troubled by what I heard. My discomfort was partly due to the scale of the environmental catastrophe taking place, and partly due to the way in which your coverage omitted to provide certain details regarding the context.

You did mention (twice) that Australasia is ‘the world’s driest continent’ and refer to the record high temperatures across the country, but I wondered whether there might be anything of a historical process which might help to make sense of the lack of rainfall and such high temperatures. Might there also be precedents for the crisis in other parts of the world? Have any other regions, or indeed Australia itself, suffered from the effects of changes in weather patterns, with more extremes at either end of the scale? Has there been in an increase in the number of extreme weather events across the globe, with the numbers of hurricanes, floods, droughts and heatwaves all on the rise? If so, has anyone suggested any reason for this? Have any scientific bodies conducted research into the vital question of what might lie behind such changes? Presuming that this is the case (and it may have been helpful to break with BBC protocol and interview a climate scientist on this point), have specific measures, either local or international, been proposed to try to mitigate the probable causes? How have successive Australian governments responded to such proposals? Is there any suggestion that those who are causing the climate to change may also be seeking to obfuscate understanding of their role? Have certain corporate interests been influencing government policy and thus ensuring exponentially worse climate catastrophes in the future? Are there, in Australia or elsewhere, any researchers and/or campaigners who might be able to enlighten you and your listeners on this point?

I’m aware this may seem like a barrage of questions but I just want to ask you a couple more, with one very pressing one being: Why do you bother? Do you know what an absolute disservice you are doing to those who are suffering the impacts of climate change by refusing point-blank to acknowledge it? How does your blatantly dishonest reporting of the Australian drought tally with the other story highlighted on your website which is headed ‘It’s time to get angry over climate change’? Surely the best place to start is with media organisations which systematically shirk their responsibilities?

I do not expect to receive a response to any of these questions. I guess I’ll just have to figure the answers out for myself.

Yours

Rich Will

ps I would nonetheless like to commend you on not employing the word ‘unprecedented’, for a change. Ffs.

As long as Trump plays ignorant, his supporters will too

The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan came up with the concept of the ‘subject-supposed-to-know’, an impersonal and intangible entity which carries knowledge on our behalf. As I understand it, this relates to the conscience. When we feel morally guilty, what authority is it that knows we have done something wrong? For many, the answer is an omniscient god. Lacan’s insight is that we all in a sense believe in God whether we like it or not.

This raises two questions for me. In a heavily mediated society where even our most intimate thoughts and gestures are mediated back to us even while we think and act, could a mediating institution play such a role? Or perhaps a political tyrant, as George Orwell posited? Social media could well come to embody the two, in that so many of our experiences are thought of in terms of their value, evaluated as potential cultural capital, and also because the affordances it offers to directly repressive regimes are boundless.

The other thing that concerns me ( in fact I now see that the idea actually came from Slavoj Žižek) is what we can call the subject-supposed-not-to-know. For example, most of us have grown up in the light of terrifying facts regarding the climate which, were we to take them seriously, would compel us to transform every aspect of our lives*. Instead, we deal with the question as we do with death, pretending it’s not real and dealing with each instance of it as though it were occasional and incidental, with no implications for how we ourselves should think and act. There is clearly some sort of (as Lacan calls it) ‘Big Other’ that embodies and excuses our lack of awareness, an authority which, unlike us, is truly ignorant of the problem. Here we can see that these tools are particularly useful for understanding the role of mass and social media in our lives.

The other pressing instance of the subject-supposed-not-to-know is directly related to this: supporters of Donald Trump. In a way unerringly similar to that of a cult leader, Trump acts out their ignorance and thus allows them to continue with a kind of hysterical blindness. This is true not just of the climate, but also of his own behaviour. If we want to understand why they are so resistent to acknowledging his failings while so ready to blame others, this provides an answer. As long as he pretends that the allegations (including admissions he has himself made in the past) don’t exist, it’s as if they’re not real. He is aided in this by partisan media outlets and social media platforms which facilitate tunnel vision/amplify our blind spots and enable wilfull ignorance of that which their participants do not want to acknowledge. Trump’ s supporters embody an increasingly prevalent condition which affects us all, just in a more extreme form: they and we are effectively, as José Saramago pointed out, blind.

*The now-ubiquitous term ‘triggered’ (as in provoked) actually describes an effect of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. What else is this trauma which we’re so keen to avoid addressing that we displace our fear and stress onto substitute targets, eg race?

Forget the Paris Agreement. We need some new Nuremberg Trials.


Some old and ugly white people, not one of whom has any scientific credentials, all of whom despise their own children/grandchildren and none of whom possesses a soul, toast their success in ensuring the rapid elimination of the human species.

People have often laughed when I’ve argued that climate change denial should long have been treated as an imprisonable offence. You may also disagree with me; in my defence I ask you to consider what the…(people? No, that’s not the word) are celebrating in the above photo. The concerted efforts of a specific group of pseudo-scientist fraudsters and staggeringly corrupt media commentators to spread doubt, ignorance and confusion on behalf of corporate interests have ensured that if the human race is to survive more than a few decades, it will be in dire circumstances and with a vastly-reduced population. To any trolls wish to make light of that sentiment, I would point out that I am the father of an impossibly adorable nine-month-old baby and stress that I regard all of the people in the above photo as mass murderers of infinite future generations of human beings. (To anyone sent here from 4chan, I appreciate your desire to demonstrate your commitment to overturning all bastions of post-enlightenment wisdom and ridiculing liberal unease, but please go and play at defending pedophiles for the evening instead.)

I’ve sometimes been accused in the past of hyperbole when it comes to this topic, so I will make the following sentence as circumspect as I possibly can: Those who have dedicated time and energy to making action to prevent or mitigate climate change impossible are the enemies of the entire human species, guilty of plotting a genocide many times greater than those of Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot multiplied together. It is no accident whatsoever that their number includes a very high proportion of holocaust deniers. (Scratch a climate liar, find a nazi. Punch a climate liar in the face and film it, I’ll send you $60 by PayPal.) Displaced repressed fear of an overheating planet is what most fuels attempts to build a post-modern fourth reich. No climate denial conspiracy, no “President” Trump. You’re welcome to disagree with me on this, but only if you first agree it’s a very good point. (And if you didn’t know that Climate Change may well have been a major factor in the war in Syria, it might be because, like everyone alive including me, you don’t like to read stories involving the climate. Knowing about that does help explain why those who deny climate change hate refugees, and vice versa. As I said before, it’s no accident. Find me more than one climate liar who’s not a close associate of the far-right and I’ll buy you a copy of the book ‘Why I tell lies on behalf of oil companies’ by Piers Corbyn.)

One of the only remaining means by which human beings might wake up to the scale of the emergency which is upon us would be if the facilitators of ecological breakdown were to be brought to justice as publicly as possible. There is a precedent: the infrastructure of human rights came out of the realisation of the immortal horrors that mortal human beings were capable of. The creatures responsible were quite rightly eliminated from the face of the earth. How it might come about is a mystery, but it seems to me that the scale of the betrayal of the climate lying movement justifies a similar response. We need a Nuremberg-style trial for all those guilty of lying about the causes and consequences of the changing climate. Much as I know it would delight that group of pro-diluvuan misanthropes to hear someone say this, they are quite simply the worst scum who have ever existed, and humanity cannot start to address this trauma as long as they continue to be present on our planet. Cheers.

First they abandoned the Puerto Ricans

I once tried to watch a documentary about the political status of Puerto Ricans. With all its myriad details of unincorporation vs statehood vs self-determination, it was considerably less entertaining than ‘West Side Story’. Now, for more than three million people, such issues may be a matter of life and death.

Donald Trump doesn’t know much about Puerto Rico either. He’s been told that it’s an island, and sort-of foreign and sort-of not, but he also knows that the people there can’t vote. He’d really rather just tell people things are going great and go and play golf. It doesn’t matter to him what happens to the people there. It’s an island, for Christ’s sake. Trump wouldn’t have the capacity to help even if he wanted to. He just has no intrinsic motivation to care about people who can’t do anything for him in return. (EDIT: The US has brought back Trump’s five predecessors to coordinate the reconstruction, due to the fact that the current office-holder so obviously does not give a shit.)

Trump also has no impulse control. Since he became president, he’s spent more than two months on the golf course. Although (as I wrote shortly after the inauguration) he’s the kind of leader that the US has imposed on so many other countries, it’s not so much that (as some claim) he’s following an authoritarian playbook; he’s too stupid, arrogant and lazy to read. Instead he’s an instinctive tyrant, his instincts conditioned by the crudest imaginable form of Social Darwinism. The notion that life is all about competition is a suitable ideology for someone who’d already been awarded the gold medal before they’d even drawn their first breath. This is not story he tells himself, of course. He just knows he’s entitled to go and play golf whenever he feels like it. His ideology, then, is Neoliberalism at its most basic: the market works for me, so it must work for everyone else. More competition is always good, because I’m the guy who owns all the starting pistols and the finishing tape. Now kneel before me – or, rather, stay on your feet or I’ll use the starting pistol on you.

Now, such a person has an instinctive understanding of threat posed by climate change. To people like Trump, the idea that society might – indeed, must – become more cooperative is worse than the reality that our habitat is collapsing. As Naomi Klein has cogently argued over the last few years, capitalism (particularly in its turbocharged, scorched earth variety) is simply incompatible with the continued existence of our species.

Of course, it’s easy to blame our leaders for our plight. There’s also the question of our own responsibility. We, as a ‘civilisation’, long ago collectively decided to ignore the implications. That is, after all why Trump was elected: there’s nothing less real than reality TV, so one way to escape from a frightening reality was to elect a reality TV star, someone who plays the role of a tycoon for the cameras. Facebook, Twitter have happened along, not quite by chance, at just the right moment to enable us to screen out those aspects of reality that make us uncomfortable. It’s no accident that Trump once declared that “All I know is what’s on the internet“. While Obama was the first black president, Trump is the first internet one. (Not to mention the “first white president“.)

Puerto Rico is an instructive case. It’s not like parts of Bangladesh, Houston, or Miami, i.e. part of a larger territory into which our perception of its suffering can be subsumed. It’s isolated, so presents a very stark test case of whether or not we actually give a flying fuck about our future. If we don’t respond to calls like that of the Mayor of San Juan, and not just with donations but with political action, we are truly lost. Every city on earth will face similar existential crises,often part of bigger ones, like the coming wave of crop failures. The market – the rising price of food and energy, which some are lucky to be able to afford – will only protect us so far. Its not just that our current leaders will let us starve or drown, they will actively ignore our plight just as they denied the circumstances that made it inevitable. We have to recognise that what is happening in Puerto Rico is a climate catastrophe, part of a much larger and even deadlier global transformation, and act accordingly by making sacrifices on behalf of those already suffering and by getting rid of political leaders who refuse to even acknowledge the nature of the crisis. We must build local and international solidarity networks and demand that those we elect to govern our cities develop infrastructure to withstand the inevitable. If we don’t do these things, there will be no one left to speak up for us.

Donald Trump’s an alcoholic, isn’t he.

“Let’s see…I’ve still got some of that brandy the Saudis gave me…”

Election Night 2010 left me in a Very Bad Mood. Seeing the disaster that had befallen the country, with the Conservative Party and their eventual suitors the Liberal Democrats effectively wiping Labour off the board, knowing that in government David Cameron would very soon stop pretending he would be the “greenest ever” Prime Minister/friend-to-all-the-woodland-creatures and start gleefully ripping apart all that was most precious about British life, I changed my Facebook status to the (ahem) unambiguously jestful ‘I think I might kill myself’.

I should have included a link to something related to the election. When I turned on my phone the following morning around 7am my phone was buzzing like crazy with messages from concerned friends, family and acquaintances. Not nearly as many as I might have expected, but still.

I would never have done it had I been sober. Watching the results in the pub with fellow campaigners for our local far-left candidate had been a despondent affair. I guess I must have thrown caution to the wind and probably had six or seven pints to numb the disappointment and then a whisky or two (I hate whisky) to make the short walk home slightly more fun.

I’ve cut back in the last few years on what a friend calls ‘combat drinking’. Up to a certain age getting inappropriately drunk just for the hell of it ceased to be a permanently hilarious jape and started to look and feel like the sort of lifestyle trajectory that leads to sitting in church halls reminiscing about the nights you spent searching through bins just in case they contained a not-entirely-empty can of Strongbow.

Then, of course, there’s the danger inherent in being addled online. My previous blog died a slow, painful death after I got into the bad habit of sharing my late-night weed-fuelled mental meanderings with the world (or, at least, my website’s dwindling fanbase). I suspect that it may well be the eventual fate of pretty much all blogs to end up as a receptacle for posts whose contents are so unidentifiable that even people with 18 years of solid alcoholism behind them would think twice before imbibing them*.

Thankfully I never did any permanent damage, either to my liver (apparently) or to my reputation. I’m not remotely famous, so embarrassing myself online (as I may be doing right now) has never worried me unduly. I’d imagine that if I somehow found myself in a position of global responsibility it would be helpful to take the edge off with an occasional drink, and there is always the possibility that in these panoptical times that could lead to serious trouble.

Remarkable, then, that the most powerful person in the world has never even tasted alcohol and is apparently able to deal with the stresses of the job with nary a drop of inebriating liquid to help him come down from the inevitable highs and lows of adrenaline that the job entails. Curious, as Hasan Minhaj recently pointed out, that Trump’s barely coherent and often catastrophically unwise 3am tweets are written in a state of total lifelong sobriety.

How on earth is the President of the United States able to combine his laudable dedication to a teetotal lifestyle with the pressures inherent in a) his status of leader of the free world in a time of geopolitical chaos and b) his condition as a pathological liar?

Errrrrrr…

Cheers!

* I’m aware this is quite a confusing sentence, maybe I should have a drink and think about how to rephrase it.

NB: There’s also of course the possibility that Trump is a bit like Obelix, as in ‘Asterix &…’. Obelix fell into the pot of superstrength-granting magic potion as a child, and thus unlike his little moustachioed buddy never requires a top-up before going into battle. He does, however, need constant reminding of this fact, and given that Trump has no memory for anything but slights and grudges, it’s unlikely he’d be capable of remembering that he’s not actually supposed to drink. He may also just be a dry drunk. I don’t really care, I just hope that he gets to hear the malicious rumours that he’s an alcoholic and the resultant rage, shame and anguish cause him to suffer a massive heart attack and die. At this point we have to try everything – it’s him or the planet. Speaking of which, do you really think that someone prepared to lie about something as significant as Climate Change should be believed when he says he doesn’t drink?!

(Incidentally, no offense to actual alcoholics is intended in or by this article. Many of my closest friends are borderline alcoholics. For some reason.)

Burning denial down by the Tiber

20170207_163216I miss the days before Kindles and iPods, when you could get to know someone better by browsing through their book and music collections. Our Dutch friend Merel, at whose house we spend New Year’s Eve, has a good variety of recent fiction and books on sustainable development and the like. I’m a little taken aback to see on her shelves quite a range of books on dictators and fascism, including two by the disgraced Hitler apologist David Irving. Thankfully it turns out they belong to her landlord.

Irving is a Nazi activist who used to get away with pretending to be a historian. He was the subject of a 2016 film starring Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall, which depicted his failed attempt in 2000 to sue the historian Deborah Lipstadt for pointing out that he had systematically distorted details about the Holocaust in his books in order to let Hitler off the hook. The judge concluded that:

Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist, and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.

As it happens I’d come across a physical copy of one of his books before, about twenty years earlier in my local library in Dublin. I took it out and disposed of it, and then explained to the library what I’d done and why. They understood my point and once I’d agreed to pay the cost of the book they agreed not to replace it. The film about the trial of the book’s author is no classic but it sets out the main details, featuring real footage of Irving giving Nazi salutes to audiences of skinheads in Germany and Austria, where he once spent a year in prison for continuing to spread lies about the death camps. It also makes the link with other kinds of denial – one of the key lines spoken by the main character is ‘Elvis is dead. The icecaps are melting. And the Holocaust did take place’. The fact that Holocaust denial is booming online and that many of those espousing it also deny that the earth’s climate is changing is no coincidence. Hitler launched his campaign to conquer Europe in order to extend Germany’s ‘Lebensraum’, living space. In anderen Worten, he wanted to expand the Third Reich’s vegetable patch. Last week the right-wing British tabloid newspaper The Sun, owned by the climate-denying pro-Trump tycoon Rupert Murdoch, used its front page to blame Spanish people for depriving Britons of food. Inclement weather in Southern Europe has meant that there are fewer vegetables to export to British supermarkets, and The Sun wants its readers to blame foreigners rather than asking why global weather patterns are changing. As I have long argued that climate denial and racism are intimately linked, I can’t help but feel at the same time a little vindicated and also really rather scared for the future.

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Once I’d explained the books’ provenance to Merel, she was more than happy for me to take them away and get rid of them. It was just a case of finding the time (my wife was heavily pregnant until last Monday :-)) and the place (we’ve only lived in Rome since last September). I decided to post a question in a friendly group for local foreigners on Facebook. Things I’ve posted there in the past on related topics have generally got a good reception, although I’d been surprised when, in response to a piece I’d written in which I called  the Italian fascist group Casapound ‘openly racist’, an Italian guy popped up and invited me to join them. My post about the books got a mixed response. Several people were consternated until I pointed out what kind of books they were, but some contributors continued to remonstrate, calling me a Nazi for wanting to burn books. Thankfully a sensible person pointed out that while the Nazis had indeed gone in for a bit of book-burning, it wasn’t by any means the worst thing they had done. A couple of people made witty but pointed reference to the fact that one of Rome’s (very best) bookshops is called ‘Fahrenheit 451’. I replied, arguing that the two items in question didn’t really deserve the hallowed status of ‘book’. I made the same point to a young Italian guy who promptly sent me a PM asking if he could have the books ‘for research’ because he was ‘interested in the topic’:

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…which gives a new dimension to the phrase ‘you’d have to have been there’.

Although Irving has long been a discredited and bankrupt irrelevance in terms of serious history, both the Guardian and The Independent for some reason decided to give him a blast of publicity in the wake of the film. He claims that the election of a US President who openly consorts with Holocaust deniers (and, it should go without saying, climate liars) has revived interest in his ‘work’, with ‘thousands’ of young people contacting him to find out more about his ‘research’. He continues to use YouTube to propagate the lie that he’s a proper historian.

20160914_111306Someone in the Facebook group had suggested a far-off part of town crummy enough that few would be bothered by the sight of someone burning some books, but I didn’t really want to drag a one-week-old-baby across Rome and end up getting us both arrested for arson. Instead I thought of a largely abandoned area round the corner, next to the river, so I could get the whole thing out of the way in half an hour and not neglect my parental responsibilities. As it happens the area isn’t uninhabited; there’s a community of gypsies scattered along a stretch of the Tiber. Elsewhere on Facebook I read about the impending destruction of a similar settlement in Napoli, where my wife was born. The European Roma Rights Centre reports that:

The proposed forced eviction will render more than 340 Romani families homeless, including pregnant women, young children, and persons with disabilities. These Romani families, like most Roma in Naples, are a part of the city, having been resident there for a number of years. Despite this, the municipality of Naples has not provided them with any alternative housing.

I’m sure Irving himself would approve. Anti-gypsy racism seems particularly rife (indeed respectable) in Italy. The Telegraph reported in 2008 that a class of Italian schoolchildren had produced drawings supporting the burning of a local gypsy camp. As a novice arsonist myself I had to hope that the fire I was about to start wouldn’t burn out of control and have a similar impact. Whatever it was I wanted to achieve by burning the books, it certainly wasn’t that.

Thankfully there was a good omen. The place I settled upon also has some fitting graffiti (‘YESTERDAY PARTISANS, TODAY ANTI-FASCISTS’). As it happens, the only elected representative of the aforementioned fascist group Casapound recently dismissed the Italians who took up arms against their own fascist Government and the Nazi regime which stepped in to save it as ‘rapists’.

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It would be nice to see someone like Irving as a detail of history, a footnote: there were some Nazi sympathisers who denied the holocaust, but they were ignored. But that’s not the case. Next month the French may well elect a President whose biological and political father has repeatedly described the systematic murder of millions of people as exactly that: “a detail of history”.

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The reasons that some things are beyond debate is that people often lie about their interests and their ideologies. David Irving knows the Holocaust happens, he just can’t admit publicly that he thinks it was a good thing and should be repeated.

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As people like to say these days, this is why we can’t have nice things. It also explains why I wanted to burn these books.

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Holocaust denial and climate denial have much more in common than has been so far acknowledged. Exxon executives knew several decades ago that the company’s activities were causing the planet to overheat and would make human life impossible, but they kept quiet because admitting it could hurt their profits. They and other such companies then invested billions of dollars in spreading lies about climate science, funding people to speak up for them who are no more proper climate scientists than David Irving is a proper historian. These are the kind of trolls who would take the last six words of the last sentence and remove them from their context. If I could I would burn all attempts to deny that the climate is changing. I would set fire to millions of web pages and happily watch them go up in smoke.

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By denying death, they deny life.

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Afterward the well-known events took place.

Our inventions were perfected. One thing led to another,
orders were given. There were those who murdered
in their own way,
grieved in their own way.
I won’t mention names
out of consideration for the reader,
since at first the details horrify
though finally they’re a bore.
(Dan Pagis)

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and even though there are those
hidden behind platinum titles
who like to pretend
that we don’t exist
that the marshall islands
tuvalu
kiribati
maldives
and typhoon haiyan in the philippines
and floods of pakistan, algeria, and colombia
and all the hurricanes, earthquakes, and tidalwaves
didn’t exist

still
there are those
who see us

hands reaching out
fists raising up
banners unfurling
megaphones booming
and we are
canoes blocking coal ships
we are
the radiance of solar villages
we are
the rich clean soil of the farmer’s past
we are
petitions blooming from teenage fingertips
we are
families biking, recycling, reusing,
engineers dreaming, designing, building,
artists painting, dancing, writing
we are spreading the word

and there are thousands out on the street
marching with signs
hand in hand
chanting for change NOW

they’re marching for you, baby
they’re marching for us

because we deserve to do more than just
survive
we deserve
to thrive

dear matefele peinam,

you are eyes heavy
with drowsy weight
so just close those eyes, baby
and sleep in peace

because we won’t let you down

you’ll see

(Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner)